Saturday, December 15, 2007

Categorically Not! - "Beginnings"

It is time for yet another interesting collection of talks at the Santa Monica Art Studios which will be given by Chuck Steidel (MacArthur fellow at Caltech, working in Astronomy), Reza Aslan (writer and religious scholar), and Douglad Gerry (composer, guitarist, and audio engineer). The series has been organized by K.C. Cole, who has this great ability to bring together experts from all sorts of different fields, pick a topic and then ponder over a ground that is common to all these subject matters. I absolutley enjoy going to these talks and talking with people afterwards. For those of you who live on the west side of town and have been watching too much T.V. on the weekends, I highly encourage coming over to the Hangar and whetting your intellectual side. You can find out more about the talks here.

The talk is going to start at 6:30 pm on Dec. 16th.

First International Conference on Quantum Error-Correction

The First International Conference on Quantum Error-Correction is almost here. I will be blogging about the talks that I am planning on attending. I am quite excited for I get to hear Peter Shor give a keynote talk on Friday (21st Dec.) morning. The conference will be held in the Davidson Conference Center at the University of Southern California from Dec. 17 till the 21st. The program can be found here. Mohammad Amin from D-Wave will be talking on Monday (17th). I am sure his talk is going to end up with a barrage of questions. Looking forward to it all.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Asra Nomani @ Caltech

"WOW, that was an eye-opener", was what I overheard someone say as people came out of Beckman auditorium at Caltech on December 6. I had the honor and pleasure of hearing Asra Nomani talk about her life. She is an accomplished journalist and social activist. I don't want to list her accomplishments here, for that is something that the readers can read on her website which lists her short biography. I would rather describe the experience of hearing her speak.

I had known about her talk for some time now, and had marked my social calendar way back in August. When December 6 finally arrived, I was all set to drive to Caltech. It was a rather cold night and I was by myself for one of my dear friends bailed out on me, stating that he would rather stay at home than brave the traffic on the interstate 10 to go to Caltech and hear Asra's talk. I guess we all have our priorities in life.

I arrived at Beckman in time and was surprised to find far more people than I had expected on a damp and cold, Thursday evening. The median age was fifty, but I felt comfortable enough in my surroundings. From the program I figured that she would be speaking about her recent book, entitled, "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam". She came on stage amidst thunderous applause from the audience, and looked graceful, confident and composed. I was expecting a laptop hooked up to some projector which would start a powerpoint presentation, but to my surprise all I found was a small mike attached to the collar of her pink woollen winter-coat. Her voice was soft, and she walked around the stage relating the story of her life from the time she was born in Mumbai to the time she came to Morgantown, Virginia with her family. She described the struggle within herself to reconcile her interpretation of Islam and its teachings to what she saw was actually being practised by the clergy in the real world. Her description of the ostracism she faced along with other Muslim women in American mosques was touching. She had this ability to connect to a mostly Caucasian, Christian-Jewish audience by relating her experience as a Muslim woman to the kind of struggles that women in the Christian-Judeo faith have had to face. She also talked about her time in Karachi, Paskistan, amidst the aftermath of her dear friend (Daniel Pearl's) killing.

The talk or rather the story of her life lasted for an hour and a half, after which there was a Q&A session where a young American-born Pakistani woman, who was in her second year of college described the same kind of segregation that Asra had to face in the Morgantown mosque. The student was overwhelmed and in tears. There were many other people who lined up to ask her questions. I stayed to listen to a few more questions which were all very poignant and interesting.

I came out of Beckman and the first thought that came to my mind was that seeing Asra speak was worth the hour and a half I spent fighting Los Angeles traffic. It was truly an honor, and I couldn't agree more with the person whom I overheard say, "WOW, that was an eye-opener."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tim Berners Lee @ USC's Annenberg School of Communication

Even those among the general populace who are not computer geeks might have come across the name of Tim Berners Lee. He is often called the inventor of the Internet. He was the first who came up with the HTTP and wrote the first web browser and server during his stay at CERN (Center for European Nuclear Research) located on the Swiss/French border in 1989. While there, he also developed HTML in a bid to unify all the various scientific document formats plaguing CERN at the time. The particle accelerator facility is a huge melting pot of cultures, languages, people, computer hardware and software. Mr. Lee now leads the w3 consortium which overlooks the development of the world wide web and in certain cases perhaps even predict what new technologies might come up and what societal impacts such technologies will have on world. Needless to say that Mr. Lee has won many awards in the past. In 2004, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth of England.

Now when such a person's talk, whose ideas have made such an impact to our lives is announced the night before, I can't help but wonder that there's something wrong with USC's public relations network. First of all I was surprised that Mr. Lee was being hosted by the Annenberg School and second of all I did not recognize room 207 as an auditorium. The talk was scheduled for noon and I arrived at Annenberg half an hour earlier. People decided to have food before the talk rather than after and before I knew it, it was noon and there was not a seat to be had in the tiny 207 room. It was literally a fire hazard. I was squeezed into a couch with four other people next to me. There were way too many people at the entrance and in the narrow passage ways between the few chairs that were arranged in the room. I could see very few of my colleagues and I was able to count only two professors from the computer science department.

Later in the evening I asked one of the professors if we could ask Mr. Lee to give a talk in the computer science department and he said that he had already asked the Annenberg people and they had declined. Apparently Mr. Lee is at USC for another week and the Annenberg folks are unwilling to give us two hours of his time. I think that's quite selfish, immature and goes against the spirit of learning and academics.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For You

My pink-striped un-ironed shirt,buttoned,
ruffled collar, creasessome deep,
some lightremind me of a network of canals
dug above and beneath a Martian landscape.
My sleeves rolled upwith pockets of space
that I wish I could sketch
with chunky black vine charcoal.
My trembling, iron-skillet fingers
undo the sleeves, unbutton
my shirt and one breaks, and falls.
A gaping hole in the middle
that no masterful tucking can hide.
With a needle between your index and thumb
and ivory thread in another,
with four strokes and a knot,
I walk with a beaming smile.

- M.M.

Ghazal 147

This past weekend I was able to do some work with a dear friend of mine on some poetry translation. Here's a sneak preview!

چشمِ خوباں خامشی میں بھی نوا پرداز ہے
سرمہ تو کہوے کہ دودِ شعلۂ آواز ہے

Even in silence the eyes of the beloved speak
Antimony from her eyes sings like flaming smoke

یکرِ عشّاق سازِ طالعِ نا ساز ہے
نالہ گویا گردشِ سیّارہ کی آواز ہے

The lovers’ form sings the chord of discordant fate
The lovers’ plaint sings like the revolving planets.

دست گاۂ دیدۂ خوں بارِ مجنوں دیکھنا
یک بیاباں جلوۂ گل فرشِ پا انداز ہے

See the power of Majnun’s blood-filled eyes:
They conjure roses to carpet the wilderness.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Claressinka Anderson at Bergamot

I had a fantastic time this past Sunday evening admiring all sorts of different art-work at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. I was invited by one of my dearest friends to check out Claressinka Anderson's work, entitled "Through Your Ghosts, Darkly" at the Tarryn Teresa Gallery. The work chronicles the artist's mother's life during communist Czechoslovakia and connects the latter's past with her present through juxtaposed photographs on some beautiful art - a series of 40 in x 40 in photographs. Personally, I found it rather morbid, melancholic, eerie, and yet I came away with a sense of beauty.

There was a huge opening in one of the bigger galleries entitled, "Artists for Human Rights". There were many unique pieces from a variety of artists from all parts of the world championing the thirty articles outlined in the International Human Rights Commission manifesto. The energy of the crowd in that gallery was scintillating!

The evening ended with some grape-flavored hookah and sheesh kebobs at Cafe Dahab.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Categorically Not - "Inside Out"

Once again K.C. Cole brings us another round of captivating talks - this time entitled "Inside Out" which is going to be held at the Santa Monica Art Studios a.k.a. "The Hangar". The talk will start at 6:30 pm on October 28th. Below is an excerpt of this upcoming event:

The insides of atoms determine whether something is sweet, smelly or smooth; the insides of seeds contain all the information necessary to make sunflowers bloom; the insides of planets determine whether they have mountains, earthquakes, magnetic fields. But insides and outsides can be both complex and confusing. A mobius strip curls around on itself so that inside and outside are the same; that 3-pound mass of grey slime inside your head both interprets the outside world—and creates it.

For our October 28th Categorically Not, Caltech mathematician Danny Calegari will talk about how intuitive ideas about inside and outside are formalized in mathematics, and how, once these ideas have been made precise, they become a jumping off point for generalizations or more sophisticated variants. Sometimes the results are surprising: circles in the plane can't be turned inside out, but spheres in 3-dimensional space can be.

Moving into the mind, science writer Sandy Blakeslee of the New York Times and her science writer son Matt (co-authors of the new book: The Body Has a Mind of Its Own) will describe the sprawling network of body maps in your brain determine how you perceive and move about in the physical and social world—providing some fresh answers to puzzles of everyday experience and the mysteries of the mind-body connection.

For a theatrical perspective, Nancy Keystone, director of the Critical Mass Performance Group, will show how actors internalize ideas and then express them through the body. Nancy has created award-winning productions at regional theatres across the country. Her company’s latest piece, Apollo, premiered at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2005 (Parts 1 and 2); Part 3 will be presented as a work in progress in LA on November 11 and 12th.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Eclipse Quartet

I had the pleasure of listening to perhaps one of the most exciting and upcoming string quartets in Los Angeles. The Eclipse Quartet performed at the Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica last Friday (10/5) with classical guitar virtuoso Marco Cappelli. Was the music baroque and boring? Far from it. Avant garde, avant garde, experimental music. Luscious, mesmerizing, evocative, contemplative, serene, chaotic, energetic, sweet, melancholic, mellow, brash and sublime are just some of the words with which to describe my experience.
The program featured contemporary composers such as Fred Frith whose piece "Fell" beautifully captured the scene of the falling towers on 9/11. I also enjoyed a rather fast and uplifting piece by John King. The quartet comprises, Sarah Thornblade and Sarah Parkins on the violin, Maggie Parkins on the cello and Joanna Hood on the viola. They are all equally talented in their own way. I have no words to describe Cappelli's handling of the guitar. They were both in love with each other, period!
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, I highly recommend checking out their schedule.
Their website is

Categorically Not - "Small Differences"

I had been anticipating this past Sunday for a quite a while, ever since I read that K.C. Cole would be hosting yet another one of her mentally delicious talks, this time, entitled "Small Differences". This talk was part of a series called "Categorically Not" - a salon/cabaret style environment where science meets art, literature, film, fashion and more.

I invite you to check out the website at

The event takes place at the Santa Monica Art Studios, better known as "The Hangar" which is situated near the Santa Monica Airport. There are usually three speakers and for the "Small Differnces" talk, she had invited Eric Scerri, a chemist from UCLA, Paul Stein, a virtuoso violinist from the L.A. Philharmonic and Natasa Prosenc, a Slovenian born video artist. Each one of them them talked about how sometimes small differences can bring about big and marked changes. From Eric's perspective it was about how the chemical nature of elements changes as we move up and across the periodic table of elements. Paul Stein talked about the subtle differences in how music is interpreted in the Philharmonic and the change that a new conductor can bring with himself when he joins an orchestra. Natasa showed some excerpts from her video art that she had filmed in different parts of Slovenia.

What was nice this time was to see so many people. I remember going to the first of these talks, now almost a year ago and seeing very few people back then. I guess the word has been spreading. Parking's not a problem, the atmosphere is casual and friendly and there is always wine and goodies to share. They ask for five dollars donation at the door.

So if you are the intellectual type and curious about the world and the perspective of experts on various topics, I highly recommend attending it. Beats sitting at home and watching TV!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tom Bradley International Airport – A Nightmare!

Last Wednesday (08/08/07) I was sitting in the departure lounge of the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport in New Delhi, patiently waiting for my plane to arrive from Shanghai (Chine Eastern Airlines). Earlier at the ticket counter, I was told by the agent that my flight had been delayed by an hour, which meant that it would depart IGI airport at five in the morning instead of four. But obviously my connecting flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles would leave at its scheduled departure time. I did a quick calculation in my head and realized that I only had an hour and a half to get to the transit terminal in Shanghai. I was mortified. And sure enough as the China Eastern airplane landed at Shanghai-Pudong airport I found myself rushing past everyone to get to my transit terminal. I finally got there with only forty-five minutes to spare. This gave me enough time to grab a quick bite and check my e-mail. It was nice of the Chinese government to provide free Internet access at their airport for travelers. Now that’s something that LAX airport can do. Why they have not done it yet, beats me. Perhaps it is a “security” issue.

The flight from New Delhi to Shanghai had lasted six and a half hours and here I was boarding another airplane to Los Angeles, only this time the flight would last eleven and a half hours! I was not looking forward to this. I will spare you the gory details of what happened in the airplane and just skip to the part where the captain announced that we were approaching LAX, though he need not have announced it as a massive concrete jungle underneath a canopy of brown smog at eleven in the morning was clearly invisible below. The airplane made a soft landing and the passengers were shuttled by three buses towards immigration and baggage claim. Now for those of you who have not recently traveled outside of the United States, let me tell you that the immigration situation at Tom Bradley International was scary. There were many officers on duty but no matter what, the lines were huge. Airport security officers kept shouting at foreigners to get in line, to move this way and that way. It was quite a mess. We had been told in the airplane that our baggage would be delivered at carousel number seven. But since the wait to the immigration line was so long, there were three other flights after China Eastern whose baggage was also dumped on carousel seven.

My back was hurting, I was dehydrated and on top of all this there was an officer who kept shoving a white form in my face and asking me to fill it out at certain places where there was no need for me write anything. How do I know better than an officer in charge? For starters I have gone back and forth between Los Angeles and India enough times that I remember this form forwards and backwards. I have been through enough immigration officers to know what they look for in these forms. She even had the gall to say that if I did not fill in a certain line, this would create a problem and that I might even be sent back. I did not have the energy or the patience at the time to tell her otherwise and so I simply ignored her. I guess she was just trying to do her job of annoying the heck out of me. By the way, my line was moving the slowest. Of all the gazillion lines there, I had to choose the one that was moving the slowest. All the other line and two to three immigration officers while ours had only one! ONE! I felt like changing lanes and maneuvering into a faster line, but since I have never even done that on the freeways here, why try now when you were trying to get into the country.

As I looked past the immigration booth, carousel seven was starting to look like a mess. Luggage was thrown across everywhere. There was a very tiny lane where throngs of people were trying to maneuver their carts in the hopes of finding their luggage and hauling it out of the airport safe and undamaged. You know how on the freeways you think that the lane opposite to you is moving just a tad bit faster, especially when you are stuck in traffic, when the moment you change into the “faster” lane it slows down again. Well nothing like that was happening here. The line next to me was moving faster because there was an immigration officer who just kept letting the folks into the United States. She was processing their papers faster than a well oiled machine. She might have been of German descent.

Finally I was summoned at the immigration gates. The officer looked at my papers and that white form, and of course he did not look at the place where the lady officer had been bugging me earlier to write stupid, useless information. Thwack, thwack and I got my stamps on my passport and my departure ticket stapled. I collected my papers and headed straight for where the carts were stacked. I was praying to higher powers that I find my luggage fast and sure enough I found my two bags in five minutes. I safely made my way through the green channel and gracefully made my way to the shuttle area. It was good to be back in Los Angeles, safe and sound. It was good to bask in smog and sun yet again.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I stamped my way through an Indian airport

As I was getting ready to leave Kashmir yet another time, yet again for an entire year, I was dreading the thuds of old and germ-infested rubber stamps at the Srinagar airport. Now you might ask what in god’s name is a rubber stamp doing at an airport? I will get to that shortly. But before that I have to take the reader through a tour of what I call a typical airport in India.

I reached Srinagar airport in the afternoon; chaos welcomed me with open arms. Due to added security we had to get our luggage X-rayed at the entrance to the airport which is about half a mile away. The airport was being renovated so you can imagine that there was even more chaos. There is usually chaos at Indian airports, but with this renovation at Srinagar airport there was more and I knew that this was going to be my lucky day and more is always good, right? As I entered the airport, the first thing that I had to do was walk through a metal detector and while that was being done my luggage was shoved through yet another X-ray machine. I actually don’t mind all this extra checking and this extra security, especially in a place like Kashmir with its recent checkered past. It was good to know that they allow passengers to carry their laptops in the airplane. As I am writing, you have to imagine people running around in all possible directions. We finally checked in our luggage at the ticket counter and made our way through which I at the time thought would be our final security check, but there was yet one more to come on the asphalt near where the airplane was parked. In any case I sat in the departure lounge while my father was chatting with some people he knew. By the way, since Kashmir is a rather small place and if you and your family have spent a considerable length of time here, you will eventually run into someone at the airport. It is guaranteed. It is a law of Nature and should be included as one of the axioms we learn in our high school physics textbooks. So while my laptop bag was being X-rayed, I was body-searched (in Kashmir the official term for body-search is “frisking”) by one of the security guards and then he asked me for my boarding card and THUD, I got my first official oval-shaped, purple-colored, rubber stamp and while he was doing this I heard another THUD from the guy running the X-ray machine as my laptop bag was alright and he stamped the cabin baggage tag which I had attached earlier. Two beautiful and lilac-colored stamps in a matter of minutes – I knew this was too good to be true!

I sat in a corner of the departure lounge waiting for my airplane to arrive. It had been raining the whole morning and there was some “talk” that the flight might get canceled. Right there I acquired a new habit of nail biting. For those of you who have never bitten your nails in your life, I highly advice against it. I found the experience painful, but then the pain helped me to focus my attention away from the inevitability of coming back to the same airport yet another day and facing another round of the dreaded security checks, but perhaps I could do it just to see the shine and gleam of the rubber stamps one more time. As I was fiddling and twiddling around with my fingers I noticed this Caucasian guy who was dressed in bottle-green khakis, check shirt, a cap and a black-colored Kashmiri jacket. The moment I saw a bushy beard with no mustache, I said to myself, “What is an Amish dude doing in Kashmir all the way from Pennsylvania.” At first I thought that the bushy-beard sans mustache was an early morning shaving accident, but when I saw his three daughters and a son, along with his wife, my faith in my earlier deduction started to solidify. Holmes would have been proud. I guess all those years of reading Conan Doyle as a child finally paid off. His entire family was dressed in Indian clothes, though he wasn’t. I thought that that was very hypocritical of him. I started to judge him and it felt good. The one thing that you will take away from Kashmiri society if you spend a considerable length of time is that you have a free card to judge other people. I got a refresher and a crash course this past month on judging people. While I try to keep it to myself, others will talk and discuss how they judged people during the day with their friends and family. It is a pastime that has no rival there.

The departure lounge was actually quite nice. There was an old rickety wooden television box in the farthest corner of the hall where it was serving mostly the security guards who shouldn’t be watching over-choreographed and pelvic-gyrating Bollywood songs in the first place. I also noticed a lot of trash and food on the floor just a few feet away from a big trash can. Whoever trashed the place should have realized that he is not Michael Jordan and should have stopped using it as a basketball hoop. It was quite disheartening for I always get this feeling that we Kashmiris have been given this beautiful country and we have no sense of belonging. Would it have killed the person to take three steps and throw away his/her food in the trash can? What example are we setting for the people who visit Kashmir from other countries? This goes both for Kashmiris and the dreaded “yatris” (pilgrims) who trash the valley every year, in order to make their annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave in the Himalayan mountains. I think their secret agenda is to trash the place than see the cave.

I was elated to see my plane land, but before I could board it, I remembered that I had to identify my luggage. You see the luggage is strewn and lying in rows very close to the departure lounge. I went outside and after a while found my luggage and asked the official in charge that I had identified it and he made some cryptic remarks and signs on a sheet of paper that he was holding and did the same on the tag that was attached to my luggage. Another obstacle was kicked away by the sheer brilliance of my deductive mind. Before I could board my sweet plane I noticed a line of passengers on the asphalt and they were being body-search, nay, frisked yet again. I too was body-searched and was asked to show my boarding card and THUD, another shiny, red-colored rubber stamp. Yes, this time it was red, though I would have preferred something in a pastel shade, but that would not have looked ominous, important and urgent enough. I was finally in the airplane, seated, satisfied with a big smile on my face! I successfully stamped myself and my luggage through one of the toughest and most chaotic Indian airports.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Aru Valley

The vibrant green color of the trees in Kashmir can be compared to the color of pure emerald, and this was the first thought that came to my mind as I was driving along a narrow stretch of metal road ten thousand feet above sea-level, when my eyes scanned a mountain range on the other side of a deep gorge sliced by the eroding action of the “Lidar” - a river formed from the melting of the glaciers in the surrounding Himalayan mountains. The mountain range across the gorge was carpeted with pine trees, but what was more striking were the forest-green plateaus damp from the clouds hugging the trees and skirting across the tundra grass. It was as if a master craftsmen trained in rug weaving in one of Kashmir’s many cottage industries had decided to weave an immense silken rug with absolutely no intricate patterns, albeit all the varying shades of green to which he paid great attention. Never before had I realized that Nature’s paintbrush could color so many shades of green.

Let me introduce the reader to Aru valley which is about ninety kilometers from Srinagar city – the summer capital of the northern most state of Jammu & Kashmir, India. Aru valley is far less famous than “Pahalgam” and one has to go through the latter to get to the former. The name “Pahalgam” is actually two words “Pahal” which in Kashmiri language means shepherd and “Gam” which means village. There is really only one road that connects Srinagar city to Pahalgam, and has been used ever since I was a child and before that when my parents were younger. The journey takes about two hours provided you leave in the wee hours of the morning before the traffic on the national highway overtakes the road, and all hell breaks lose. My reasons for going to Aru were two-fold: to fly-fish and to spend time with my parents.

The Lidar is full of brown, red-spotted, and rainbow trouts. They are not native to Kashmir and were first introduced during the British raj in India back in the middle of the nineteenth century. To get a fishing license one has to go to the fisheries department which operates under the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Board. These fishing licenses are issued only in Srinagar city, so one has to plan in advance and get several licenses if one wants to go on a week long trip. There is no license granting branch of the fisheries department in Pahalgam.

We left our place at five in the morning. My mother had packed an awesome lunch and some delicious sandwiches for the road while I had packed my fishing gear the night before. We also took a big woolen rug and some pillows. There was absolutely no traffic at this time in the morning and I started dozing off as it was still dark outside. I would open my eyes from time to time to see yet another huge and ugly house taking over the fields in the country side. It was hard for me to believe when my parents said that there were only six hundred thousand people living in Kashmir when they were young. Today the population has grown ten times and is now roughly around six million! The result: too many cars, roads polluted with plastic bags, too many tea stalls, and big, huge, tasteless, and impractical houses adorning the country side.

A few miles out of Srinagar city the first thing that caught my eye was a stretch of road that goes through a vast farming land – bare, naked, and shameless, as far as the eye could see. These fields will be blooming with lilac-colored saffron flowers during the autumn, around October. Kashmir is renowned the world over for the quality, color, aroma and taste of its saffron. We make a special saffron tea here called “qehwa”. The only other saffron growing places in the world that I know of are Iran and Spain. We were an hour on the road and kept passing through villages and occasionally seeing some army patrol on the road or in the nearby fields. The second noticeable thing was the paddy fields full of tall and green rice plantation. They require heat during the month of July for only then will they be ready to be harvested in mid-August when they turn brown. My father stopped to pay his respects at the shrine of two Sufi saints who wandered the valley of Kashmir and spread the Sufi way many hundreds of years ago. We also passed some very old ruins with huge massive stones reminiscent of the construction of some temples in South India. It is believed that the “Pandavs” (from the great Indian epic “Mahabharata”) who were banished from their kingdom spent some time in Kashmir and built a temple while they were here – presumably many centuries before the birth of Christ.

About an hour and half into the drive the air temperature dropped and I could feel a cool breeze on my face. Through some trees I could see the Lidar gushing, and tumbling over smooth boulders and making its journey towards the “Jhelum” river where it will be joined by many similar tributaries. The Jhelum in turn will join the Indus river which will finally weave its way partly through India and partly through Pakistan where it will eventually drain into the Arabian Sea.

With a bit more driving we could finally see the beautiful valley of Pahalgam and the unmistakable craftsmanship of the Lidar. Since we were heading upstream, the river was gaining in speed, volume and strength. Before we entered Pahalgam we saw a huge Indian army checkpost where they asked us to disembark from our car and thoroughly searched it for arms and/or ammunition. This month is also the time when Hindu devotees make their annual pilgrimage to “Amarnath” cave deep in one of the Himalayan ranges. In order to ensure the safety of these pilgrims the Indian army regularly patrols the mountains surrounding Pahalgam. Each year thousands of pilgrims come to Pahalgam for this gruesome journey which takes them through some harsh terrain and hardy weather. It was heart wrenching for me to see how these pilgrims have polluted this beautiful valley with hundreds of plastic bags choking the Lidar. There is very little provision for hygienic outdoor restrooms. Most of the people end up relieving themselves near the river beds.

We left Pahalgam behind and made our way through a busy market/bazaar and finally started our ascent to Aru. The constant roar and gurgle of the Lidar was ringing in our ears. There is something soothing about this sound, something nostalgic, something otherworldly – Nature’s way of telling mankind that I am tolerating your tantrums and your misbehavior for right now because in the span of my existence you are just a little bleep and I cannot be bothered with such trivialities.

The ascent was quite steep and we kept gaining altitude. At some point as I looked over my shoulder I could see a thin sliver of the Lidar while towards the opposite end I could see a couple of huge grooves in the mountain side made from melting glacial waters. My mother pointed me to a huge glacier which was so brown from the mud and silt that it was hard to discern. One has to realize that one is surrounded my mountains on all sides. They are right there in your face, staring at you, awe-inspiring, grand, beautiful, bold, with a strong personality. It is as if they are guarding the valley and its precious resources from the prying eyes of humans, but welcoming at the same time. With a further four to five miles of this upward ascent we could finally see the cottage of the fisheries department a few hundred feet below the road. We parked our car, and carried the fishing gear, food, rug and pillows down to the cottage. We were met by a “rakha” which in Kashmiri language means guardian. He was a government employee and in charge of guarding the fish population and from stopping the local people living in the surrounding villages from indiscriminate fishing. Even though the speed of the waters in the Lidar is very strong the trout is able to thrive in natural pools that are formed from boulders sunk in the river. So during autumn when the water level goes down, it is quite easy to cast a net and catch a large number of fish. This is how the villagers take undue advantage of Nature’s bounty.

The fisheries cottage came with a spacious patio facing the river. While my parents laid out the rug and the pillows and set up the place, I talked with the “shikari” (which in Kashmiri means hunter, but you can think of him as a guide) about where to start and the kind of flies that the fish were biting on that morning. I used a fishing rod that my father had purchased for me more than fifteen years ago and which I have used on many fishing trips. After we set up the gear and hooked three different flies to the casting line we were ready to start our hunt. About ten minutes of casting, I got several bites and I caught two small red-spotted trouts which I released back into the river. I only keep a couple of big fish which are over one pound in weight, while I release the rest. Unfortunately the fish were not biting that morning because the weather was cloudy and it had rained the night before and I could see low rain clouds on some distant mountain ranges. The water was not muddy but it was very milky and not transparent at all. In such a situation it is hard for the fish to discern the fly and so they don’t bite and even if they do, they only take partial bites.

We started making our way downstream and casting into the various pools. I must emphasize to the reader that the terrain around the Lidar is quite tough to navigate. The rocks are slippery, and one has to climb over many big boulders with a rather long fishing pole in your hand. It is quite a balancing act if you are not used to it. The shikari kept walking as if there were no rocks and boulders. His stamina, agility and the ability to navigate was remarkable. After three hours I began to get frustrated because the trout were not biting on the flies. In the end we came to a rather large pool and decided to use live bait (earthworms). The moment I let the bait into the river, the trout started to bite and I could feel the end of the fishing pole bend and vibrate vigorously. I caught a brown trout which weighed around one pound. Soon afterwards it started raining and by the time I made my way back to the cottage, which was around one in the afternoon, I was more or less drenched.

I was beat and tired, but so happy and rejuvenated. While the clouds danced in the trees, and the Lidar kept roaring and gushing away I enjoyed my mother’s delicious food and sandwiches. She kept insisting that this place is God, and even though I am not a staunch believer in deities and things of such nature, I could understand how someone could get an idea in a place like this. I would have loved to take a long hike but the rain was constantly pouring and I had not brought a rain jacket with me. At some point the rain let up a bit and the clouds started to withdraw from the mountains when for just a brief moment we saw this beautiful mountain peak make an appearance for just a few minutes. When you are surrounded by these green mountains, you tend to forget that you are situated in only a tiny part of a huge mountain range, and that you are sitting in only one of countless green valleys.

We started packing our things at four in the afternoon. In the meantime the shikari had caught a couple of more trout fish and was nice enough to clean them for us to take home. We thanked the rakha and the shikari for their hospitality and started on our long drive back to Srinagar. By the time we got into the car it was raining heavily. In Pahalgam the pilgrims and the local people were drenched. We were lucky that we got to stay in a nice, dry cottage with a spectacular view of Aru. There are so many beautiful and majestic mountain peaks in Kashmir and so many valleys far spectacular that are yet undiscovered. I would love to trek further beyond Aru where after fifty miles or so one comes to this beautiful glacial-capped peak called “Kolahai”. My parents and my uncles and aunts kept telling me how when they were in high school the teachers and the principal would organize trekking and camping trips to all these places. I envy them, for they have seen these hidden treasures and have beautiful and cherished memories of Kashmir.

I do not know when I will be able to return to Aru again, but I hope that when I do, it will not have been overtaken by progress. There are some things in this world that should just be left alone and not touched by technology or greedy humans. There is a Kashmiri folklore that says that there is a mountain peak in Kashmir called “Harmukh” where a man after he trekked to the place, tired, sweaty and exhausted finally lifted his head to see the peak and swore that he saw God. I do not about the latter, but I can say that in Aru my heart and my mind both were at peace – a rare thing in itself. Perhaps that’s the God that each one of us is trying to find within ourselves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Top of The Roof of The World - Literally!

I sat on top of a craggy boulder in the middle of a sunny afternoon in a place called “Kongdur” watching milky clouds swirling and shifting above my head, like a whirling dervish donned in his white robe. It is one thing to see the formation of clouds from the patio of your house, or when you look up stretched on a grassy lawn, while it is quite another when you see them appear, dance and disappear at fifteen thousand feet. Before this experience, I never realized that clouds have a distinct smell, a smell so unique that it would be unfair on my part to draw a simile with anything else in the physical world.

Kongdur, which in Kashmiri means a saffron-drawstring, is a place that is ensconced in the valley of Gulmarg which is about forty miles south-west of Srinagar – the summer capital of the northern-most state of Jammu & Kashmir. I left with my parents at around seven in the morning and it took us a couple of hours to reach Gulmarg. We left early in the morning as we wanted to avoid the traffic that engulfs the national highway after nine. While I was in the car, I noticed how the country side has changed over the last several years. For one, huge and distasteful houses have taken over the greenery of rice paddy fields destroying the natural beauty of the country side. While every village corner has small shops advertising the latest cellular phones and the cheapest deals, electronic life and technology have not completely taken over the Kashmiri villager or the surroundings. As we drove towards our destination, I realized that one cannot escape the different Himalayan mountain ranges. Through the windshield, the mountains loomed in the distance. I could also see them in my rear view mirrors. I felt as if I was driving from one end of a massive tea cup to another.

I realized that we were nearing our destination when I saw a road barrier with a man holding toll vouchers. After we paid our toll, we drove up a rather long and twisted road that took us through a dense forest of pine, fir and spruce that is hundreds of years old. The forest floor was covered with white flowers that have medicinal value and have been used by the local villagers to treat boils and other skin ailments. When we finally reached the top, we were stopped by an army personnel who asked us our business in Gulmarg and after we told him we were here for some sight seeing and trekking he pointed us towards a very narrow pass. As we made our way through, a huge meadow covered with thousands of white flowers awaited us. It was truly a sight that took my breath away. I had imagined and anticipated this view in my mind over the last several days, but on seeing it again with my eyes, my mind froze to take in the colors and the freshness of the place. It seemed as if cotton flakes had fallen over miles and miles of green undulating meadows the night before.

By the time we arrived in Gulmarg, it was still nine in the morning and we felt that breakfast was in order and so we headed towards “Highland Park” – a hotel that has marked one of the meadows in Gulmarg for as long as I can remember. As we came up to a bend in the road that would lead us to the hotel, I saw the world’s highest golf course and I wished I had brought my golf set with me. We were greeted by the hotel staff some of whom remembered me from when I used to come here as a child. Our plan was to have breakfast, unwind for an hour and then make our way to these newly constructed cable cars that would take us all the way up to Kongdur. I should remind the readers that the hotel where we were having our breakfast stood at around nine thousand feet. I could certainly feel shortness in my breath as I gobbled down two scrumptiously cooked omelets with some local bread and tea. We sat in comfortable lawn chairs while we took in shifting patterns of the meadows. Wild horses grazed and galloped in the meadows while we saw other hotels and some shops in the distance waking up to the hustle and bustle of a fresh Gulmarg morning.

Next on our agenda was to check out the cable cars that would take us to the top of one of the many mountains surrounding Gulmarg. The cable car station opened at half past ten which gave us plenty of time to get there. This was my second time to go in one of these cable cars. Last time when I was in Gulmarg, the government had completed only the first phase of the “Gondola Project”, which took the people a couple of thousand feet to another station from whence you changed cars and then climbed five thousand feet to the top of the mountain, completing the second phase. This second cable car station is built on top of a plateau which is called Kongdur and has been so named by the local gypsy tribe called the “gujars”. I could not wait to get to the mountain top and so we changed cable cars and climbed further up into the clouds leaving the plateau behind. I looked back at the vastness of the pine forests and the countless valleys beneath and beyond.

It took us a good five to ten minutes to reach the mountain top. As I disembarked, I could only see huge boulders in front of me, Kongdur five thousand feet below and vast glaciers several hundred square meters which seemed only a few feet away. Clouds rushed up and went through our skin, cooling us, though the rarified atmosphere and the open sun had a vendetta of their own. At fourteen thousand feet, sitting on one of the highest roofs of the world one has relatively little protection against UV radiation. My mother and I climbed further up so that we could see all the way to the other side. It was a rather steep climb and after about every twenty paces we had to stop and catch our breath. There were tourists being hauled up and helped by the local guides and trekkers. There were tourists sliding down the glaciers and reveling in the snow and ice. I asked one of the guides to point me towards a famous peak called “Nanga Parbat” which means “the naked peak”. They pointed east but I could not see anything as that direction was completely covered in clouds. I was dismayed as I had heard from my parents and my uncles that it is a peak whose beauty comes very close to that of Everest in Tibet and K-2 in Pakistan. I looked towards a mountain range in the southerly direction and I saw two absolutely gorgeous snow-capped peaks jutting above the rest of the range. I should emphasize here that in Kashmir there are mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. From the corner of my left eye I saw a break in the clouds and Nanga Parbat flashed before me. It was truly a sight to behold - a peak with perfect symmetry on both sides and milky white even in the middle of summer.

Never in my life have I been so humbled, so impressed by the majesty of Nature’s handiwork. I believe though I am not sure that Nanga Parbat might be the third or fourth highest mountain peak in the world. While I was basking in its beauty, I heard my mother ask one of the guides about an alpine lake called “Alpathar” (the rock) on the other side of the mountain top on which we were standing. The guide said that it would take at least two more hours to get there and that the trek which was treacherous would involve climbing and walking over huge boulders. Moreover, we would have to get permission from the Indian army to see the lake as it lies very close to the Pakistani border and there is already an Indian army base there. I heard my mother describe the lake and its sheer beauty – at how huge glacier chunks are submerged in this lake, the waters crystal clear, the stones and rocks surrounding the lake smoother than the granite top of a kitchen counter. She had seen this lake many years ago when her high school took her on a trek and so had my father and my uncles. Here I was sitting in Kashmir and thinking that I had to get permission from some soldier to see a lake that is part of my heritage. I was sad, annoyed, a bit angry and a bit helpless.

As I looked at my wrist-watch it struck three and I knew that it was time to leave. I thought about this past year and how much I have grown and matured. I thought about my personal hardships, my internal struggles, my friends and their tribulations back in the United States and above all my little sister all alone in Singapore. I looked over my shoulder and saw my parents, not as young as they used to be, but certainly adventurous and youthful in their hearts. I looked over my left shoulder and realized that majesty, grace, strength, beauty, simplicity, and humility are ageless and timeless just like the Nanga Parbat in front of me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Paper goes digital

Livescribe just launched their new product that essentially converts whatever one can write on a paper lazed with special dots into digital media. There is a pen, the size of a Montblanc which is loaded with a computer chip. Via an on-board camera the pen senses hand writing movements and is able to capture the information which when docked to a laptop can be rendered. One can also record a lecture while taking down notes and e-mail it to someone else. Livescribe has several animations on their website detailing this.
NYT covers this in great detail.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Four Seasons with the LA Chamber Orchestra

I was at UCLA's Royce Hall tonight and heard the LA Chamber Orchestra perform Vivaldi's four seasons. The evening started out with a contemporary piece composed by Wolfgang through the "Sound Investment" series. In this series, some of the LA Chamber members commission a piece of music to be composed. The other contemporary piece was by an Argentinian composer Piazzolla. The evening ended with Haydn's symphony number 89.
The star of evening was Lindsay Deutsch - a 21 year old violin prodigy. I felt she was technically very adept, but she was trying too hard and seemed to hammer the music at times. Nonetheless, a great performance. The LA Chamber was led by Jeffrey Kahane whose conducting was flawless. None of tonight would have been possible had it not been for my dear friend Sarah Thornblade who is the second principal violinist in the Chamber.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hiking in Mandeville Canyon

I went hiking for three hours this morning in Mandeville Canyon which is off Sunset near Pacific Palisades. It was a beautiful morning. I saw blue dragonflies, butterflies the size of bats though far prettier and deers. Occasionally someone on a mountain bike passed me by. It was quiet, breezy, sunny, so calm. I picked some wild flowers which were mainly in three colors, orange, yellow and lilac. I could do this every morning. Two hour hike from 6 to 8, a quick shower and then off to work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cheb - i - Sabbah at the Temple Bar

I am a big fan of Cheb i Sabbah's music. Middle-eastern, Indian grooves mixed with some funk, and techno. The beats will blow your mind away. He's playing at the Temple Bar on May 26th. Tickets are $15 and doors open at 9:00 pm.

Tuna Sandwiches

A couple of years ago around 2 in the morning, I was feeilng a bit lonely and I wrote the following - idealistic, but that's me.

You see it is all about this road that Robert Frost mentions in his poem, the one not taken. I look at the road and for the most part I can walk this road by myself. It is those little stupid stones, and rocks and thorns that get in the way. I want someone to help me kick the stones away, hack the thorns with a machete. I also want water and neatly packed tuna sandwiches while I walk this road. Along the way I want to stop and build a house so that other weary travelers can take refuge in it long after I am gone. Sometimes a cool person comes along and actually helps me in this journey, while at other times they actually foul me and I fall hard on the ground just as in a soccer game or in football. Rarely someone comes along who not only helps me in pushing the stones away, hacking the thorns but also in building the house. And I think to myself and ask why the hell is this person helping me like this? What is she getting out of it? After a while I realize that this person is lonely like myself and for some insane reason loves tuna sandwiches as much as I do! Before I know it we are walking on this road together and there are these crazy adventures along the way. The weird thing is that I don't ask this person her age, occupation, ethnicity, income, etc. All I know is that it is all about tuna sandwiches, and she totally digs that. Here is an oxymoron for you - planned adventure! I want to walk this road not taken and of course there'll be an adventure along the way. I don't know what to expect and there lies the beauty, the mystery, the anxiety, the fear, the joy. If I see an unexplored valley with wild flowers, I want to explore it. If I see cool people along the way, I want to get to know 'em. Just wanna meet someone who enjoys making and eating tuna sandwiches as much I do. Trust me, the rest doesn't matter!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


“If the Higgs or something like it doesn’t exist,” Dr. Arkani-Hamed said, “then some very basic things like quantum mechanics are wrong.” (NYT)

Another huge, and interesting article (See earlier NPR post) on the Large Hadron Collider on NYT.

Man Man

Thanks for pointing me to Man Man's music, Matt. They are an indie/experimental/folk group based in Philadelphia. As to how experimental they get? Here's a medley of musical intruments they use: honky tonk style piano, danelectric guitar, xylophone, clavinet, microKorg, euphonium, fender jazz bass, and the list goes on. They are on tour with Modest Mouse - another favorite band of mine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day - Hoops and YoYo style!

I sent my Mom a Hallmark e-card for Mother's day. For those of you have not looked at Hallmark's e-cards, I highly recommend them. They are brilliant! I gave this one.
I miss you Mom!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Maddy Lemel's art

I was at the last of the Categorically Not talks today at the Santa Monica Art Studios. The last speaker for the evening was Maddy Lemel who is an artist and has her gallery at the same studio. I really enjoyed looking at her art work. She uses all forms of materials, from pipetters, to metal scrap from old airplanes. I highly encourage checking out her work at her studio. You can read more about her and her work here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


My friend Matthew Harmon pointed me to Bansky's website. Apparently he's getting quite a buzz these days. I found the sketches very witty. He has a way of blending satire with bluntness and giving it a sophisticated artistic finnesse at the end. Very interesting.
Here is Bansky's website.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

An original Pollack or a fake? You decide!

60 minutes recently aired this piece where a woman, Teri Horton (truck driver) supposedly bought a Pollack-like painting many years ago for just $5.00. Of course she didn't know at the time that it was a Pollack. At one of her garage sales, an art teacher from a local high school spotted the Pollack-like painting and enlightened her on its similarity to the original. She has been trying to convince the art world that it is an original but the art world is giving her a hard time. If they do agree that it is an original, the price tag will be a mere 50 million! Not too shabby of an investment!
You can read more about it here.

When Massive Stars go Kablooey

There is an interesting article in the NYT detailing the recent discovery of a new supernova. A supernova occurs when a huge star dies. The one recently discovered is a massive one as the mass of the exploding star was 120 times that of our sun, or 120 solar masses.
Here is the article.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Erotic Chinese Poetry

Ah, I can't wait for this book to come out. It is devilishly delicious! Bravo Tony!

Nice article on Shor's Algorithm

I like the Walt Disney version of complicated topics. Here's one on Shor's Algorithm on the AMS webpage.

Eden's Edge Exhibition at the Hammer

I always feel so lucky to be amidst some interesting art in Los Angeles. The Hammer museum, which is near UCLA, is exhibiting "Eden's Edge", a coming together of the work of fifteen artists and their perspective on Los Angeles over the past decade. Opening night is May 13th and it goes on till September 2. More about it here

Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

The largest, most complicated, most expensive scientific instrument every built by mankind. I am talking about the large hadron collider which is being built in Geneva and has brought together more than 2,000 scientists and engineers from around the world. The price tag? a mere $8 billion!!
Once they start running experiments in fall this year, the LHC will hopefully shed some light and give some validation to string theory.
Ever wonder why we weigh, what we weigh? Where does mass come from? Higgs' posited a particle that would be the carrier of mass - now the so-called Higgs' boson. The LHC will hopefully shed light on this little elusive bastard.
Here's an awesome article on the LHC that was aired on NPR a while ago.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hiking in Whittier

I went on a beautiful hike in the Whittier woods today. It was a serene, quiet, and beautiful day. Hiking in L.A. has turned into such a "scene", especially around places like Runyon Canyon, Griffith Park, etc. Around Whittier, there were very few people. I could actually hear the wind rustling through the eucalyptus trees, instead of the incessant babble and chatter that you hear on trails in L.A. The smell of the Earth, and the shrub took me back home to my childhood days, where I grew up in a huge orchard, surrounded by a variety of flora.
Anyway, the picture above was taken from aunt's backyard. Now that's what I call a backyard!

A beautiful picture of Srinagar

I found this beautiful picture of the Dal Lake on Wikipedia - a beautiful lake that sits in the middle of the capital city of Srinagar, Kashmir. Ah, I can't wait to get back home this summer!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Finally, Ahh....

I can finally relax a bit, read my New Yorker and listen to some jazz. This has been a nightmarish week, with final project deadlines, preparing solutions for my class, etc. etc.
I might take a hike around Mandeville Canyon this weekend.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

BSD Conjecture

I was really happy today as one of my closest friends/peer/colleague Ifti defended his thesis and got his PhD from the computer science department here at USC. His thesis was on the BSD conjecture - one of the Clay Instittute's one million dollar Millenium Prize problems.
Congratulations Ifti!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Los Angeles, thy fresh air!

The Financial Express states, "Los Angeles has once again topped the American Lung Association’s bad air list ranking the most polluted cities in America. An association found that the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which includes Long Beach and Riverside counties, had the worst air based on 2003 through 2005 figures." Here's the link to the article.

First International Conference on Quantum Error Correction

This conference is still far into the future (Dec. 17 - 21), but I am excited about it. I find it amazing how rapdily the area of quantum error correction has grown in just the last ten years that the subject can boast of an annual conference of its own. Some big wigs are going to be there, including the guy who put quantum computing to the forefront, Peter Shor.

Harvard - I wonder if my kids...

I really enjoyed this recent article on young kids and getting into Harvard from the New York Times.
Here's the article

Ghalib # 36

I have been working on a book of translations with my dear friend Tony Barnstone. I am translating the works of the Urdu world's most famous poet, Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib. Ghalib lived in Delhi around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He wrote poems which are known as ghazals, somewhat like the English love sonnets. The ghazal is written in couplets where the first and the last word of the first couplet rhyme and thereafter the rhyming trend follows every second verse of every couplet. We have had to play this very delicate game of maintaining the meaning of the poem and the rhyming sequence. The ghazal also involves a meter, but we found it quite challenging to satisfy all three constraints in our translations. There is an excellent project on Ghalib's works being done at Columbia University.
With a few more translations, we will be able to get our work out in book form. In the mean time enjoy the following ghazal. Ah one last point. As far as meaning is concerned, each couplet stands on its own and does not rely on a thought from a previous couplet of from a succeeding one. I always found this quite unsettling about ghazals.

پھر مجھے دیدۂ تر یاد آیا
دل جگر تشنۂ فریاد آیا
Once again I recall her tearful eyes;
heart and liver call intensely for my lover,

دم لیا تھا نہ قیامت نے ہنوز
پھر ترا وقتِ سفر یاد آیا
Doomsday has barely paused
when I recall your passing.

سادگیہاۓ تمنّا یعنی
پھر وہ نیرنگِ نظر یاد آیا
Oh, Desire, your simplicity makes
me recall my lover’s witching glance.

عذرِ واماندگی اے حسرتِ دل
نالہ کرتا تھا جگر یاد آیا
Excuse my longings O thirsty heart.
When I call out, I recall my lover.

زندگی یوں ہی گزر ہی جاتی
کیوں ترا راہگزر یاد آیا
Life might have passed as is,
so why did I recall the path you walked?

آہ وہ جرأاتِ فریاد کہاں
دل سے تنگ آ کے جگر یاد آیا
What a spectacle, to fight Heaven’s gatekeeper
when I’m called from Heaven in recalling your home.

پھر ترے کوچے کو جاتا ہے خیال
دلِ گم گشتہ مگر یاد آیا
How can I get the courage to beg?
I’m tired of my heart. I recall my lover.

کوئی ویرانی سی ویرانی ہے
دشت کو دیکھ کے گھر یاد آیا
Once again, my thoughts wander your alleys.
Maybe I can call back my lost heart.

کیا ہی رضواں سے لڑائی ہوگی
گھر ترا خلد میں گر یاد آیا
My wasteland is such a wasteland
that seeing the desert, I recall home.

میں نے مجنوں پہ لڑکپن میں اسد
سنگ اٹھایا تھا کہ سر یاد آیا
In my childishness I, Asad, pick up a rock
and almost stone Majnun, then recall my head.

Categorically Not!

I am really looking forward to the last of this mentally delicious series called "Categorically Not!" started by K.C. Cole and Clifford Johnson. Here's the excerpt from their upcoming event "Recycling" on May 13th at the Santa Monica Art Studios (The Hangar). Hope to see all of you there.

Everything gets recycled: newspapers and banana peels, the air you breathe and the earth you walk on; some would even say our souls. Our bodies, we know, are made from materials recycled in generations of stars. The mix of genes that makes us who we are is a stew recycled by long lines ancestors—something nice to remember on Mother’s Day. Artists recycle everything from concrete objects to abstract ideas. New musical forms—like new scientific theories—are inevitably reconstructed from pieces of the past. We’ll start with the ancestors of us all: the stars. An astronomer with the Carnegie Observatories, Alan Dressler, will tell us how stars have produced all the heavy chemical elements, and how they have recycled them back into space as they die. Galaxies store the enriched gas much like a reservoir stores water – this is recycling on the grandest scale.Culture recycles as well, and Josh Kun, a professor in USC's Annenberg School for Communication, will talk about recycling as a mode of cultural creativity and oppositional aesthetics. He will focus on the central role of recycling in contemporary music and the role of recycling as an aesthetic practice in the artistic subcultures of Mexico and Brazil. Josh is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Tu Ciudad Los Angeles; his book Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America, won a 2006 American Book Award. Finally, Artist Maddy LeMel will show and talk about how she uses discarded objects to make sculptures that explore the mystery of “stuff” devoid of original context; in new combinations, her transformed objects take on second lives and assume a new sense of mystery. Recently described as “exquisite” in the Los Angeles Times, Maddy’s sculptures can be seen at many galleries through-out California. She currently has her studio at Santa Monica Art Studios.

Underworld at the Bowl

I am a really huge fan of Underworld of the Karl Hyde and Rick Smith fame. I was ecastatic whenI read that they will be playing at the Hollywood Bowl on September 9 along with one of the biggest Euro DJs, Paul Oakenfold. Jason Bentley from KCRW's "Metropolis" will be hosting the night. Read more at the Bowl page.

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